Five men were ordered to clean a septic tank at DLF Capital Greens in West Delhi. Incidentally they did not carry any safety equipment or undertook training.
Police say the men succumbed to toxic fumes after climbing down into raw sewage in the 30ft-deep tank, located in the basement of a high-rise residential tower in Moti Nagar, a suburb of west Delhi, as reported by Times of India.
New Delhi deputy police commissioner Monika Bhardwaj confirmed that these men were sent into the tank by a contractor at 3pm on Sunday. The two men identified were Sarfaraz and Pankaj who went in first, by just using cloths to cover their faces from the smell.
After a while, the next two men, Raja and Umesh, were sent in to check on them. When all failed to emerge after sometime, a fifth man – Vishal – was instructed to go and check. It was only when he started screaming for help that fire officers and police were alerted.
The first four of the men were declared dead on arrival at the nearby hospital while the fifth, Vishal, was miraculously pulled alive from the tank. However, he too died in hospital on Monday.
These deaths have raised serious questions on the safety norms adopted by private societies. Citing outrage from public, central government has ordered an urgent probe into the matter. As quoted by his spokesperson, Gopal Rai, the labour minister, has asked for the results of the inquiry to be presented within three days.
Vishal’s sister, Satya, informed the Indian Express that he was alive when he arrived at hospital, and narrated his suffocating feeling inside the septic tank to the doctors present there.
Vishal had been employed on a monthly salary of Rs. 12,000 as a cleaner with a JLL, property management services. His sister said,
“But his work was not to go inside the tank. I don’t know how this happened. Somebody must have forced him to go inside.”
Some parts of the DLF Capital Greens residential complex are still undergoing construction due to which several labourers are still at the spot. Another worker said that at the residential complex service firm forced housekeeping staff to perform other tasks than the ones assigned to them at the time of offer,
“We were never told that one day we will have to clean sewage plants. If we oppose we are threatened by superiors not to come on work from tomorrow. We have no other option left as we have to feed our family,” she said.
Witnesses present at the site were quoted as saying the contractor ordering the work had fled the scene before police arrived. In a statement, the complex’s developer DLF has put the onus on JLL, to whom the property has been outsourced for its upkeep.
Bezwada Wilson, from the Sanitation Workers Movement, said 1,800 had died since a Supreme Court ruling in 2014 condemned the lack of enforcement of the law protecting workers, as reported by The Telegraph.
Wilson said, “Those in power are not taking these events seriously.”
Another spokesperson at DLF said,
“We are awaiting a detailed report from JLL on the unfortunate incident. We are sure they are taking all steps to look after the families affected.”
Reacting to the allegations, JLL said,
“We have offered our co-operation to the authorities as they investigate the tragic case and we are carrying out our own internal investigation. Given that the investigation is still being investigated, it would not be appropriate for us to speculate as to the cause or contributing factors.”
As reported by Daily Pioneer, Joint Commissioner of Police, (Western range) Madhup Tewari said that they have arrested one Ajay Chaudhary, employed as an engineer with JLL, the company tasked with services and faculty management inside DLF Phase-II, Moti Nagar.
A case under sections 304A/304 of IPC, 7 & 9 of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, 3(1)(j) & 3(2)(v) of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has been registered and investigation is underway, said the Joint CP Madhup Tiwari.
Further investigation to ascertain the role of others is underway, nobody will be, he concluded.